Neil brings ten years of diverse experience across strategy, corporate development, private debt and investment banking to the team. Neil joins Vistara from Element AI, an enterprise Artificial Intelligence technology company, where he helped develop product roadmaps, negotiate partnerships and raise over $200M in venture financing. Prior to Element AI, Neil honed his investment acumen at middle-market credit focused investor Penfund and advised on equity, debt, and M&A transactions at RBC Capital Markets.
Vistara Growth: Interview with Neil Kenley
You’ve previously worked in investing and most recently, strategy and corporate development in the AI sector. Is there a common thread in the challenges you choose to pursue?
I have been focused on identifying opportunities that would allow me to better understand businesses and support entrepreneurs. My time in both private debt and investment banking gave me a lot of exposure to new industries and business models, while providing me with a framework to understand and evaluate them. In my last role, I had the opportunity to work in a startup and learn the operational and strategic decisions needed in a rapidly growing organization. Working in an industry in its nascency allowed me to learn how enterprises embrace new technologies as well as the pitfalls and challenges of enterprise sales and implementation. My background and these experiences have led me to my latest challenge at Vistara, where I plan on using everything I have learned to identify and support strong businesses.
What excites you most about joining the team at Vistara?
I am most excited to act as a growth partner to businesses and help support them through investment and strategic collaboration. As a growth partner, we can work with businesses to provide them with the freedom to control how they scale without significantly impacting their ownership or strategic direction. Vistara’s ability to be flexible and ensure that we find the right terms to make each business a success is a mandate that I am looking forward to being a part of. Raising capital is a big decision for entrepreneurs and finding the right capital is an even bigger one.
What are you interested in bringing to the team?
First and foremost, I am really interested in bringing a more permanent East Coast presence to the team. There are incredible growth stage businesses in Toronto and the entire East Coast that could benefit from additional choices when it comes to owning their growth and raising capital. Additionally, my background in helping scale companies and investing allows me to better understand both sides of the table when identifying businesses. It’s also provided a strong understanding of how to work with operators to identify the right form and structure of an investment to ensure success.
In your experience, what are the key qualities or traits you see present in the most successful, or your favourite, high-growth tech companies?
Businesses that have strong unit economics coupled with measured investment in R&D are able to create significant long-term value while maintaining a competitive edge and continuing to innovate. Companies and management teams that have been able to maintain a track record of growth while managing these two tenets are well along the path to success.
Is there a favourite quote or piece of advice you would share with others within the tech space?
A piece of advice that I learned early on in my career is that, “life is an apprenticeship.” I interpret this as, in order to learn and grow quickly, surround yourself with experts and people who have been there before. Creating a network of experienced professionals that you can tap into for guidance can help you solve almost any problem. This applies to figuring out a future career move, selecting an advisory board or determining the right partners to help finance a business. Surround yourself with those who have successfully done it before and they can help to guide you through any decision. When it comes to raising capital, Vistara has an incredible track record of businesses and partners that it has supported along the way. I can’t wait to learn more from the team and our portfolio companies.